FORESIGHTING FOR MEANINGFUL INNOVATION: SMARTlab AS CASE STUDY

2 03 2009

By SUZANNE STEIN and LIZBETH GOODMAN

For the last few decades foresighting has been used in private and public organizations to understand and respond to the changing contexts that they could find themselves in. Whereas this was a predominantly reactive stance, foresighting techniques are playing an increasingly active and formative role in forging desired futures. It can be a particularly helpful tool for artists, scientists and business strategists and designers in guiding curiosity and situating innovation in a meaningful socially-aware seat. For example, we can look at the expertise and projects at SMARTlab, University of East London and how these draw upon emerging trends to capitalize on them and direct us to a better, future world.

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LIMITS OF COGNITION: ARTISTS IN THE DARK UNIVERSE

1 03 2009

By ROGER F MALINA

Discoveries in cosmology reveal that 97% of the energy and matter content of the universe is in a form that is of an unknown nature, called dark matter and dark energy. For all of human history, our species has been studying only the same kind of matter that it is made of (baryonic matter), and this matter and energy is a minor constituent of the world. The human senses are very badly designed to investigate the total content of the world.

Science and technology have led to the development of a large range of different kinds of instruments to allow us to perceive parts of the world below the thresholds of our unaided senses. Other kinds of instruments allow us to access parts of the world that emit energy of a kind that our senses cannot even detect in principle. There seems to be an innate human urge to continue exploring current limits of our perceptual systems, building new cognitive territories. Such a urge would presumably have survival advantages for the human species resulting in a selective advantage during human pre-history. Now they provide the ground for development of new human cultures.

The role of artists is essential in helping us develop the kinds of intuitions, new metaphors, explanatory concepts, and linguistic elements that are needed as we explore the new extreme territories, from micro to macro scale. As scientists continue to extend the limits of perception and cognition, artists have an important role in shaping the science of the future and new possibilities for art-science collaboration exist..

New generations of artists are sufficiently trained in science to begin to contribute actively to the exploration of these extreme environments. Artists in residence, such as the one co sponsored by the Leonardo organization at the Space Sciences Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, are helping to provide platforms for new art-science collaborations. Through such collaborations we can imagine that the experience of extreme environments will become culturally appropriated with the development of new languages, analogical and metaphorical frameworks and indeed new intuitions that will frame our imagination and artistic and scientific futures.

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